Tom Verducci's View

May 18, 2003

NEW YORK MESS

Art Howe, you're not in Oakland anymore. The Mets manager might
as well have hung a camera around his neck and gawked at the
skyscrapers last week to show his unfamiliarity with the Big
Apple. Last Thursday he told a TV reporter that the club planned
to talk to catcher Mike Piazza about playing first base--nobody
had told Piazza--and then was surprised when the story caused a
furor.

So went another week for the miserable Mets. Shortstop Rey
Sanchez was embarrassed by reports that he was given a haircut in
the clubhouse during a blowout loss in April (he denied it);
first baseman Mo Vaughn faced possible career-threatening knee
surgery; the NL's worst offense scored 16 runs in six games; Howe
let the banjo-hitting Sanchez lead off the eighth inning of a
one-run game because the Mets' bench is so awful; and erstwhile
All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar continued his alarming
decline against lefthanded pitching. Since 1999, Alomar has
performed worse than the stock market versus lefties: .338, .318,
.279, .204, .146. The Mets were headed in the same direction.

THREE FOR ONE

Major League Baseball deserves credit for establishing a new
bereavement policy in which a player can be replaced on the
roster for three to seven days. But the Giants quickly exploited
a loophole. When starting pitcher Jason Schmidt left the club for
six days in late April because of the passing of his mother, San
Francisco replaced him with a succession of minor league
pitchers: a reliever (Luis Estrella), who was replaced by a
starting pitcher who took Schmidt's turn (Jerome Williams, left),
who was replaced by another starter and occasional reliever (Jeff
Urban). Schmidt obviously would not have been available the days
before and after a start. That loophole needs to be closed.

WHO IS ... ?
Tom Martin

Early in spring training Dodgers righthander Paul Shuey told
senior VP for baseball operations Dave Wallace that a former
Indians teammate wanted a tryout. Shuey's pal was Martin, a
32-year-old lefthanded reliever who was a veteran of five arm
surgeries and eight organizations, most recently Tampa Bay, which
released him last September after he threw only 1 2/3 innings.

"He was throwing 92, 93 [mph] with a good changeup. I immediately
went, 'Whoa!'" says Wallace. "I told [G.M.] Danny Evans, 'This
guy is supposed to throw for [St. Louis manager] Tony La Russa
tomorrow morning. If you let that happen, he'll be a Cardinal.
Check the medicals, but I wouldn't let him out of here without a
contract."

The Dodgers signed Martin, who might be this year's Chris
Hammond, the nonroster lefty who had a 0.95 ERA out of the
Atlanta bullpen last year. Martin allowed only one run in 12 2/3
innings before Montreal touched him for four runs last Friday.
Martin, who is setting up a nearly unhittable Eric Gagne (one
run, 31 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings), has helped give Los
Angeles the best bullpen in the majors.

SHORT HOPS

Until pitching eight innings in a 5-2 win over the Yankees on
Sunday, A's lefthander Mark Mulder had thrown three straight
complete games in which the times of the games were 2:06, 1:54
and 1:49.... Joe Nathan, a hotshot young starter for the Giants
in 1999, has found a niche as a middle reliever at age 28,
allowing only one run in his first 23 1/3 innings. Says
assistant G.M. Ned Colletti, "He hurt his shoulder, lost his
fastball and went all the way down to Double A. He deserves a lot
of credit for working his way back."... Boston's Bruce Chen, the
next Mike Morgan, is pitching for his seventh team in the past 34
months. He's only 25, and, yes, he is lefthanded.

Read Tom Verducci's Inside Baseball column every week at
si.com/baseball.

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER (ALOMAR) Alomar can't hit lefties. COLOR PHOTO: MILES KENNEDY/AP (WILLIAMS) COLOR PHOTO: JOHN SOOHOO (MARTIN)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)